Sunday, January 02, 2005

How Americans see it

Catching up on the somewhat thin media of the week between Christmas and the New Year (apart from the responses to the tsunami, which have shown up the inadequacy of the various international organizations and to which we shall return), I came across two articles. One was in the International Herald Tribune and was entitled Europe drops out of the picture and the other in the Wall Street Journal Europe. This was an editorial published immediately after the Ukrainian election results were finally declared and accepted.

Entitled The Miracle on Independence Square, it dealt with the astonishing events of the previous few weeks in Ukraine and on possible future developments. Very sensibly the article did raise the subject of the gap between western and eastern Ukraine and the difficulties this will present to the newly elected President Yuschenko.

Inevitably, the subject of relationship with the European Union came up. On the whole, the EU, as we have pointed out before, has not distinguished itself in its policy towards Ukraine (or any other post-Soviet state). As we have said before, the reason for this is that it has no real policy, not having any obvious interests.

The WSJE put it in a way that makes it clear that while their writers can see the immediate problems, they are not that well aware of the underlying ones:
“But this revolution will force the West to rethink its policies toward Ukraine.Ukrainians made their moral case for eventual membership in the European Union,which now groups the country alongside Libya and Lebanon as part of its ‘neighbourhood’ non-policy, by fighting for their democracy. With Turkey about to start accession talks, why not Ukraine? The EU can use the best foreign-policy tool at its disposal – the carrot of membership – to help guide the reform process in Ukraine. Now isn’t the time to fret over details, but stay true to a vision of united Continent of democracies.”
Whoever wrote that paragraph is hereby awarded the membership of the not-so-select group of perestroika europhiles, whose general discussion of the EU tends to run along the lines of: good idea but needs reform. Unfortunately, the only way that can be substantiated is by deliberately misreading what the EU is really about and what its various actions are likely to lead to.

First of all, the West had rather varied attitudes to developments in Ukraine. While the US immediately proclaimed its support for transparent democratic processes in that country, followed by several European countries, namely the Baltic ones and Poland, the EU itself, hummed and ha-ed, with Foreign Affairs Supremo Javier Solana running around, trying to set up negotiations and preserve stability.

Secondly, the reason Ukraine is classed with Libya and other North African countries is an obvious one: the EU as such has no specific interests or foreign policy. (Yes, I know I have said it before, but it needs to be repeated a few hundred times, before general understanding dawns.)

That famous common foreign and security policy has no purpose but to exist. Therefore, it functions in two ways: as a convoluted compromise between various countries, such as the well-described “neighbourhood non-policy”, and as a rolling programme of unnecessary and potentially destabilizing activity.

We have seen quite a lot of the latter and shall see more as the military units will be sent off into badly understood situations that are of little concern and where solutions are hard to come by. Those 800 soldiers in DR Congo, who were, understandably, too worried to leave their compound are an obvious example.

The neighbourhood non-policy was created in its cackhanded fashion because France and other Mediterranean members of the EU could not allow the organization to concentrate on the former Soviet states and relationship with them. Though this is clearly of importance – they are, after all, the EU’s backyard – it shifts emphasis even more away from most of the core members and their interests, particularly France. So the non-policy had to be expanded to include countries that are of interest to the latter: those around the Mediterranean and in North Africa.

To this one may add the fact that Solana is a Spaniard. Therefore, he is unlikely to have the sort of intrinsic understanding of eastern Europe that the Balts and Poles do. A Finn in the same position, for example, would not be able to deal easily with problems around the Mediterranean. Which goes back to the same point: there is no such beast as European interests.

So we come to what the WSJE calls the EU’s “best foreign-policy tool”. Actually, it is the only one, as we have pointed out before on numerous occasions. Since the EU, especially Germany, wants to be on very good terms with Russia (a small matter of gas and oil supplies), that tool is not going to be used on Ukraine. President Putin is unlikely to be happy with the idea of accession negotiations, however long they may take (ten years, at least, are predicted for Turkey) and President Putin’s happiness is of paramount importance.

The rest of the paragraph would be of remarkable silliness, were it not for the dangerous misinformation contained in it. It is time writers on the WSJE and other publications grasped that the EU is not a democratic entity and, therefore, membership of it does not strengthen democracy. Au contraire. It undermines the existing accountable, constitutional democratic structures of its members.

Which brings me to the final point: what on earth is a “united Continent of democracies”? In what sense is it to be united? If we talk in general terms of a loose union of democracies, then Ukraine is already a member, conditional on how its politics will develop. If we are talking of a real union with, let us say, a Commission that consists of dubious politicians but which has sole power of legislative initiation as well as being the executive; a Council of Ministers that decides far-reaching legal and regulatory structures behind closed doors on the basis of horse-trading; a European Parliament that is elected on the basis of closed lists by an ever decreasing number of people, that does not legislate or, even, debate in any meaningful fashion; a Court of Justice, whose purpose is to further integration; then where do all these democracies come into the picture?

So much for the newspaper that actually writes about the EU. But what happens in the United States? Wayne Merry, a former State Department and Pentagon official, a senior associate at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington DC and the author of Europe drops out of the picture has tried to find out what the attitude to Europe is across America.

The conclusion he came to after a good deal of research is not exactly flattering either to Europeans or their self-important politicians. Outside Washington there is precious little interest. Businesses pay some attention because they want to carry on doing business but, apart from that, interest has long ago shifted to other parts of the world.

Economically, Asia has become far more important. The expanding American free trade area has focused attention even more on Central and South America. Other parts of the world may be problematic. There are foes and friends to be found everywhere. Europe does not figure on this map. Its economy is shrinking; it is no longer a stalwart ally in the fight against the enemy – terrorism (Britain, for the time is an exception, but that will not last as the Hoon “reforms” go through).

I imagine some of the comments on this posting will tell me rather superciliously that Americans are not interested in the outside world. This is not true. Reading the American broadsheet press will show considerably more interest in the world than reading the British equivalent will. It is just that the interest is not in Europe.

As Mr Merry puts it:
“Europe is not a problem, not global, and of the past. A nice place to visit,but pricey.”
He concludes his article with the following paragraphs:
“Americans perceive a Europe that values comfort and safety, but that is also in long-term demographic decline and disengagement from unpleasant realities. War may no longer be part of European life (for which Americans think they can merit some of the credit), but in American eyes it is a fantasy to project this reality on the wider world.

Above all, Europe is increasingly eclipsed by Asia. As people oriented toward the future, Americans see Europe as isolationist and Asia as resurgent. Americans would like partnership with Europe but think that finding ways to work with China is more important. Finally, the American demographic itself is visibly shifting away from its European origins,with America’s future as a “global nation” apaprent on the streets of almost any city across the heartland.”
A few points have to be made about this conclusion. This disengagement to a great extent has spread to Washington, or, at least, to the political think-tank world. European development and European integration, its pros and cons, are rarely seen to be worthy of analysis. (Though, I am delighted to note that Cato Institute, after a long gap, has once again organized a discussion on the subject, though only because T. R. Reid of the Washington Post has published a book called The United States of Europe.)

This is not a healthy situation on either side. Being sidelined in this way will cause greater stagnation in Europe itself, that might have serious repercussions. It is, however, inevitable with the sort of structure the EU is and with the sort of aims it has set itself.

The idea that somehow war has been permanently eroded from Europe is laughable. There are the problems in the Balkans, in the post-Soviet states, in western Europe with terrorist groups. But the sort of attitude Europeans have displayed towards these problems are very dangerous: they consist of ignoring what is coming until it arrives; then scrabble round for immediate solutions that ought to have been worked out before; sometimes, as in the Balkans, the Americans have to be called on for help.

Nor is this situation a happy one for the Americans. Yes, they can ignore Europe up to a point, as being of little value or danger. But the EU will always have the capacity ot create trouble and undermine any western alliance, as it has already shown.

Nor can there be a complete break, despite the demographic changes. The United States and its political ideas grew out of European ones and, especially, British ones. Then there is the question of the struggle against the unaccountable, anti-democratic transnational organizations, that the United States and any real democracy will increasingly have to wage.

The EU is the political expression of that “movement”. It is the epitome of unaccountablity and anti-democracy. It is a transnational organization par excellence. In the great battle for world-wide influence, it will be ranged against freedom and democracy.

As ever, the question is which side do the individual member states want to find themselves on. We had better decide soon, while we still can. Before we are irredeemably shunted into the sidelines.

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